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The Benefits of Group Therapy
Coping with life situations that feel overwhelming is difficult for all of us. Having a supportive group of people with whom we can share these events with is life-changing. Experiencing drastic changes in life such as a life-threatening disease, divorce, death of a family member, marriage, having children, ending a long-term addiction, going back to school, or making a big move is hard to navigate alone. Most of us feel unprepared to deal with these situations in equanimity so there is nothing more powerful than sharing these events with people who have no stake in how we end up working through them.
The Power of Experience
Group therapy gives members a safe place to process their feelings and day-to-day problems without judgment because there are others who share the same feelings or problems. For instance, a newly divorced individual having to raise children alone while working and maintaining his or her home may feel like there is no time for a social or personal life. Other members in therapy can then address this issue and share how they’ve overcome the struggle from their own experience. This gives the person personal input that is more valuable and specific to their needs than one provided by a therapist. In this case, a group of peers can give more valid advice than professional feedback.
Besides peer wisdom, the mutual support received in group therapy is also wonderful. Process groups, i.e. groups where members process their feelings, problems and solutions with each other, are without parallel in their efficacy and helpfulness to those who are troubled by life circumstances. While no member is professionally trained to offer advice, feelings are universal and all members can benefit from sharing their experiences and emotions with each other.
An Objective Audience
Family and friends can be supportive but usually have an agenda when giving advice. They may be too close to the situation to be neutral about outcomes. Support groups provide a safe base of operation for processing feelings and tricky life situations. Attendance can very well be a lifeline that we previously did not have. Finding others in similar circumstances feels freeing and powerful, especially when they have strong opinions about the situation. It is difficult to process personal feelings about our own day-to-day coping when others start imposing their emotions into the situation.
Someone newly diagnosed with a serious illness has a lot of feelings to work through. Loved ones may unknowingly impose their own concerns and fears on top of that. It’s nearly impossible to work through our own feelings when others are emotionally needy and a group that understands and has experienced this can be a tremendous place of safety and relief. There you can find a place to vent and cry or express anything you want without hurting those you love and giving yourself the freedom and peace of getting those feelings out.
The final benefit of group therapy is a practical and important one: cost. A therapist or agency running a group will charge members much less than if they were conducting one-on-one therapy. This can be a significant advantage for those with issues to work through that do not require the same personal attention and time from an individual therapy session.
If you are thinking about group therapy, it is wise to find a therapist who can refer you to a professional group actively participating in processing the issues you are challenged with. There is no weakness in seeking this type of health and the strength you will find in the process is invaluable.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.